Many Christians will concede that God allowed polygamy in the Scriptures but they compare polygamy to slavery and divorce and see it either as a sin God overlooked or something he allowed because of sin. In either case, in their view polygamy was never a part of God’s original design for marriage and they believe that God removed his allowance for polygamy when the New Testament Church was formed.
Below are answers to 6 common arguments against polygamy that Christians make today.
The “One Flesh” Argument
This is probably the most common argument used to attack polygamy as being part of God’s plan for man. Because after all, how can 3 or 4 or 18(David had 18 wives) mesh with “the two shall become one flesh”?
4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.
Jesus repeats what is said in Genesis after God created Eve and brought her to Adam. The context of Jesus’s statement is his answer to the question of divorce. He is alluding to “the beginning” in the Garden of Eden, before sin. Before sin divorce was not necessary, so in the beginning divorce would never have been needed. But is he also alluding to the fact that marriage was designed by God to be monogamous? He says nothing about that here.
When Jesus said of marriage “So they are no longer two, but one flesh” he was referring to both the physical and spiritual bond that God intends for a husband and wife to share.
In it’s most literal sense “one flesh” refers to a man and woman having sexual relations. Sexual relations between a husband and wife mark both the consummation of the marriage and are a constant reminder of the covenant shared between the man and his wife.
It is in this sexual sense of being “one flesh” that God warns us we are not to abuse being one flesh with others outside of marriage:
“15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.“
1 Corinthians 6:15-16 (KJV)
But then we have the spiritual side of being one flesh and this is the part of being one flesh that opponents of polygamy will use to attack the practice of polygamy. But when they use this to attack polygamy they do so from an egalitarian perspective of marriage. They believe that a husband and wife become one spiritually by blending together and becoming like one another. The man moves toward his wife on some views and she moves toward him on others thus they make one new person together. While that might sound romantic this is not the Biblical view of how spiritual oneness should take place between a husband and wife.
Ephesians 5:22-33 tells us that God designed marriage between a man and woman to be a picture of the relationship between God and his people and in the Church age between Christ and his Church.
So we have to ask ourselves – does Christ mold himself to his Church or is his Church called to mold herself to Christ? Ephesians 5 tells us that Christ gave himself up for his Church to wash her of her spots, wrinkles and blemishes “That he might present it to himself a glorious church…“(Ephesians 5:27).
Christ molds and shapes his Church to his liking, to his thinking and so too in marriage wives are to mold themselves to their husbands. With this understanding of what one flesh means from a spiritual perspective we then can understand that it is very possible for a man to be “one flesh” with many wives in many distinct marriages just as we as Christians each unite ourselves with Christ and become one with him in our spirit and our thinking.
So yes it is absolutely correct to say that marriage always involves two people, a man and a woman, becoming one flesh both sexually and spiritually. But while a woman is forbidden from multiple marriages (Romans 7:2-3) God has blessed(Genesis 30:18) and allowed(Genesis 30:18,Exodus 21:10-11,Deuteronomy 21:15-17,Deuteronomy 25:5-7) multiple marriages for men.
In fact, God has even given multiple wives to some men (II Samuel 12:8, II Chronicles 24:2-3) and even pictures himself as a polygamist husband of two wives in both the Old Testament in Ezekiel 23:1-5 speaking of Judah and Israel as well as in the New Testament in Romans 10:19 when speaking of taking on his new bride, the Church, in order to make his divorced wife Israel jealous so that she might return to him as well.
The “Bishop must be the husband of one wife” argument
“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” – I Timothy 3:2(NASB)
Some point to the fact that the Bishop had to be the husband of one wife. If a Pastor must be the husband of one wife, then this must be God’s correct design for marriage and anything else is perversion of his design including polygyny or so they say.
Is the “husband of one wife” requirement (I Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6) for a Pastor speaking of monogamy or divorce? I would argue based the qualifications of widows who could be supported by (and became servants of) the church that Paul was speaking of a Pastor or Deacon not having been divorced from his first wife:
“A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man,” – I Timothy 5:9 (NASB)
Even if the apostle Paul is stating that the Bishop must literally be monogamous, this is ONLY applied to Bishops and deacons and never to Christians at large. This would be very similar to how the Old Testament has stricter marriage practices for Priests as opposed to the general population.
In any event, no passage in the Bible, either Old or New Testament, condemns the practice of polygyny.
The “Adam and Eve” argument
This argument typically goes like this – “God did not make Eve, Mary, Sarah, and Leah for Adam – he only made Eve. Therefore, we know that God’s design for marriage is that a man should have only one wife.”
I love the Genesis account. It is utterly filled with truths about God’s design of the world and how things came to be. However, the Genesis account is not the complete revelation of God about his will and design for his creation. No, my friend – we will see that God progressively reveals and more and more truths about his purposes back in Genesis all throughout the Old Testament and also in the New Testament.
In fact, many of God’s mysteries and truths are shrouded in symbolism in the Old Testament only to be completely revealed in the New Testament. So, we cannot assume we know God’s full design for marriage simply by looking at the Genesis account while ignoring the rest of the Bible. We must take the entire Bible into account to fully understand his design for marriage.
So, going back to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve – yes God could have chosen to create multiple women for Adam but he did not. He also could have created Adam and Eve and immediately clothed them but he did not. Later in Revelation 7:9 we read that AFTER sin is removed people are “clothed with white robes” so we know that Adam and Eve’s nakedness was only temporary and that God clothing them was not just because of sin. They simply jumped ahead of God’s plan by eating from the tree which revealed to them that they were naked.
God could have created multiple couples so Adam and Eve’s children (brothers and sisters) would not have to marry but he did not. In Leviticus 18:9 God would officially end the practice of brothers and sisters marrying even though this was an original part of his design with only having one couple, Adam and Eve, to start the human race.
God initially created Adam and Eve naked only to show us that later in the eternal state everyone is clothed. He also only created one man and one woman to start the human race thus necessitating the practice of sibling marriage only to later end the practice in the law of Moses. These two facts show us that we cannot derive God’s complete plan for marriage from the Genesis account alone. We must take the entire witness of the Scriptures into account to understand God’s complete plan for marriage in this world. Therefore, God’s creation of only one wife for Adam does not condemn the practice of polygamy because it does not take into account the entire revelation of God throughout the Scriptures.
The “Polygamy makes women jealous” argument
This argument is usually said like this “We see in the Bible that polygamy makes women jealous of their husbands and hurts their feelings and for this reason it is selfish and wrong for men to engage in this practice.”
I agree that we sometimes see jealousy in the Bible amongst wives of polygamous husbands. The story of Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel, found in Genesis chapter 30, is a prime example of this.
Let me present to you a scenario to give you food for thought.
A man and his wife have their first child, a daughter, but in the process his wife’s uterus is damaged beyond repair and the doctors tell them they cannot have any more children. Seven years go by as they raise their daughter as an only child. She receives all the love and affection of her parents and does not have to share her parents with any other child. Her father is ok with having an only child, but her mother yearns for another child. So, she convinces her husband to adopt another child. The man and his wife adopt a baby girl and his wife feels so happy now having another child.
What if their first daughter was jealous of the fact that they were seeking to adopt? What if she told them – “You can’t adopt another child because that will make me jealous and feel hurt that I am not enough for you. You are just being selfish Mom and Dad!” what would we say? The answer would go something like this – “God allows Daddies and Mommies to have more than one child and us wanting another child does not mean we love you any less. But God made Dads and Moms, and especially moms, to desire multiple children.”
But if when our first daughter becomes and adult and marries a man and she were to come home and tell us “Mom and Dad – my husband had told me he wants to take another wife. This makes me jealous and hurt and makes feel like I am not enough for him” our culture’s answer is very different. We then have to ask ourselves why the answer is different.
Why is it not ok for an only child to be jealous of their parents wanting another child but somehow it is completely ok and we would even call it righteous for a woman to be jealous of her husband wanting to take a second wife? The answer is because we have the preconceived cultural notion that a man is to have only one wife. He is only to love one woman.
The trouble with this is two-fold. First, while the Bible does restrict women to having one husband in Romans 7:2-3 it never restricts a man to having only one wife and it does not restrict parents to having only child. Second, even if the Bible did restrict a man to having only one wife – Biblically speaking the wife does not possess her husband, but he possesses her and she is therefore forbidden from having a possessive jealousy over husband. If it were a sin for him to have another wife – this would be between him and God, not him and his wife. See my article “How to train your wife not to be jealous” for more on this subject about jealousy from a Christian wife’s perspective.
The point is that while we do see women having possessive jealousy toward their husbands in the Bible in polygamous marriages – the sin was on the women, not their husband’s for having multiple marriages to other women.
The “Polygamy is like divorce” argument
This argument usually goes like this – “Sure, God allowed for polygamy in Moses law, but he also allowed for Divorce. God allowed both these things because of sin (Matthew 19:8) and he even says that he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) because it goes against his design for marriage. In same way God hates polygamy because it goes against his design for marriage.”
The problem with this argument is that nowhere in all the Bible does God ever compare divorce to polygamy. Never. He does not ever even hint at the fact that he allowed polygamy because of sin or that it violates his design of marriage. But rather throughout the Scriptures shows that he allows and blesses polygamy. See my article “7 Proofs that God allows and blesses polygamy” for more on this.
The “Polygamy is illegal” argument
If opponents of polygamy cannot win their argument against the practice of polygamy in Biblical times they will try this argument against polygamy for modern times:
“God said “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man” (1 Peter 2:13-14), therefore if the government says we cannot practice polygamy then we cannot practice polygamy.”
It is absolutely true that since the Roman empire outlawed polygamy monogamous marriage became the norm throughout western civilization. But as I referenced in part 2 of these series on polygamy, the Romans had the hardest time enforcing their laws against polygamy with the Jewish people. Well after the time of Christ and his Apostles polygamy was widely practiced by those of Jewish descent. It took centuries for the Romans to finally root it out this ancient practice of the Jewish culture.
However just because the government makes a law does not mean we must follow it despite what I Peter 2:13-14 and other passages tell us about obeying the civil laws of our government.
The first principle that allows us not to obey certain laws of our governments is when they ask us to sin against God as seen in here in the words of the Apostle Peter:
“27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. 29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Acts 5:27-29 (KJV)
So at this point some Christians would say “Sure we should not obey any laws that tell us not to do something God told us to do or tell us to do something God told us not to do. But God does not command us to engage in polygamy, he may or may not allow it, but he never commanded it. Therefore, we should obey our nation’s law prohibiting polygamy.”
But what these same Christians miss is that there is more than one side of this government issue. Contrary to the assertions of Kings of the past or even some in the modern governments today – God did not give unlimited power to the sphere of civil government. While the Bible does not prescribe a certain form of government for all nations (like Monarchy, Dictatorship or Democracy) it does prescribe certain principles that all governments must adhere to. For instance, governments may not oppress their people and they must respect the private property rights of their people. Governments may not unjustly enslave anyone and deny people their private property rights. Christ even acknowledged the concept of limited Government here:
“They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Matthew 22:21 (KJV)
Jesus did not say “Whatever power is not reserved for God and God alone belongs to Caesar”, no he said for us to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” So, what limited powers did God give to the Government?
The clue to the government’s role is found right here in the very passage used to attack polygamy:
“13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.”
1 Peter 2:13-14 (KJV)
The primary purpose of God’s ordination of the sphere of civil government is the protection of the people. The government is to protect people from those who would prey on others. The prosecution and punishment of murders, kidnappers, rapists, thieves and extortionists – this is a primary function of government. The government is also to protect its people from outside threats such as foreign powers. They are to be “the minister of God to thee for good” (Romans 13:4). They are to encourage good behavior while punishing bad behavior.
We need to realize that Civil Government is just one of five types of Government God established and recognizes.
- Self – God wants every person to govern their own actions according to God’s law and his will for their lives as individuals. He wants us to practice self-control and self-discipline in our thoughts, speech and actions no matter what other human authority spheres we may or may not fall under.
- Family – This is the first sphere of authority where God established one human over other humans. Husbands and fathers are given authority over their wives and children and they are to lead, provide for and protect their family all in the spirit of God’s love for his people. They are tasked with teaching spiritual and doctrinal truths to their wives and children and are tasked with correction and discipline of their wives and children all while providing for the physical needs of their family.
- Business – regulates the relations between employers and workers or master and slaves. Workers and slaves are admonished to work hard for and obey their masters while Masters are admonished to treat their works with dignity and to pay them promptly based on what they agreed to if there was such an agreement.
- Church – given authority by God over the affairs of local assemblies of believers. Church leaders have the right and responsibility to teach correct doctrine and defend the unity of the Church from heresies that may arise from within. Church leaders are also given the right and responsibility to expel members who are living in open sin or are promoting heresies in the Church. Churches are also called to spread the Gospel and plant new Churches.
- Civil – given authority by God to prosecute and punish sins like murder, theft, rape, kidnapping and extortion and to settle property disputes between individuals or businesses as well as to organize resources and people for the defense of their nation.
Out of these five spheres of authority – the family sphere with the husband and father at its head is the most power sphere of human authority God established. While the sphere of Civil government is the most limited sphere of Government God established.
So, bringing this all full circle back to polygamy – God did not give authority over marriage to the sphere of the Civil government or the Church government. He gave it to the Family government headed by the father:
“16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.”
Exodus 22:16-17 (KJV)
Later we see again that fathers may override any vows their young daughters make (which would include an agreement of marriage):
“3 If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth; 4 And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. 5 But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.”
Numbers 30:3-5 (KJV)
Fathers were established by God as the guardians of their daughters and marriage was strictly a family affair and neither the Priests or Pastors or Tribal or Civil Governments had any authority in marriage.
So, the truth is – Biblically speaking both the Civil and Church government authorities usurped authority in the area of marriage that God never gave them and yes that means we as Christians do not have to get marriage licenses or have clergy preside over our wedding ceremonies. We don’t even have to have a wedding ceremony but a man and woman can make their covenant before God in private if they wish to.
What all this means is that the Jews who ignored the edicts of Rome against their practice of polygamy were justified by God in doing so in the same way that men today are justified in ignoring the edicts of the United States Government against polygamy as well as local Church governments condemnation of polygamy.
None of these arguments against polygamy stand when compared with the Scriptures.
A man can be one flesh, which each of his wives.
Pastors and Deacons were not forbidden from polygamy, but instead became disqualified if they were divorced. Even if were true that the New Testament was prohibiting polygamy for pastors this is not prescribed for all Christians, just as the Levite priests had different standards for marriage that were not applicable to the greater population of Israel.
If monogamous marriage is God’s standard because he only created one wife for Adam then sibling marriage is also his standard because his creation of only one couple in the Garden necessitated the practice of sibling marriage. But we when we look at the entire witness of the Scriptures we see that sibling marriage was a temporary allowance by God which he ended in the Law of Moses and that polygamy was blessed, allowed and given by God to men and he never removed his allowance for it or condemned it even in the New Testament.
Finally, God never gave the Church or the Civil government authority over marriage. Marriage was given to the family and the Church and Civil governments may not usurp authority in this area. All regulations of Churches or Civil governments in the area of what constitutes marriage or who may marry and not marry may be disregarded by Christians. Our authority on what constitutes marriage and what the conditions and responsibilities are in marriage is the Word of God and Word of God alone.